Judging Books By Their Cover

Do you do that? Judge a book by its cover? I certainly do it, with varying levels of successful outcomes. Like wine bottles, a well designed book cover snatches my attention away from its plainer counterparts. It doesn’t have to be flashy or gaudy. It just has to have a certain something – the font, the photo or illustration, the placement… all working together to represent what lies inside. Whatever it is, some book covers just work better than others.

While you may not know Chip Kidd’s name, you have almost certainly seen his work. He designed this:  jurassic

And this: kidd naked

And this: kiddthumb-david-michaelis-schulz-and-peanuts-book

And so much more.

I went to go hear him talk a couple years ago at our local library. He is a good speaker and his description of how he works is inspiring. His TED talk about book design is fantastic. A few weeks ago I heard him interviewed on the Design Matters podcast.  He commented that he got so many requests from people wanting advice from him about their work, that he could not possibly answer them all and still get his own work done. Subsequently, he decided that he would offer an on-line class to teach what he knows and thinks about book design. That class is now available, and I am taking it!

The content is offered by Skillshare. This is actually a pretty cool deal. There are a multitude of classes that are offered by the site, and I don’t know if any of them cost more than $25 (and there are usually discounts available). The classes come via videos and there is an assignment/project associated with each. You have the ability to create your project on the class site so others can give you feedback. While you don’t lose access to the classes once you purchase them, doing them on the schedule suggested makes the interaction with other participants more timely.

Chip Kidd’s class that I am taking is called Introduction to Book Cover Design: Making Stories Visual. The assignment is to redesign a book that we love.

This morning I watched the first two videos. In the first, he gave a history of book cover design in about 9 minutes. This is not a survey college course by any means, but it is a friendly, efficient way to get some new learning into your life and get your own creative process activated.

That brings me to the book that I have chosen for my assignment. Five Quarts by Bill Hayes is one of my all time favorite reads. Its tagline is “a personal and natural history of blood” – of course I love this book! He blends medical history, personal anecdotes, and contemporary investigation to tell a story about blood. He makes it work really well. There are two editions of this book. I have the white one, but I think I prefer the red one. I don’t dislike either of them, but I don’t know that either is as good as the book deserves.

five quarts 2five quarts 1

I have serious doubts as to whether I have it in me to design something that will be better than the current choices, but I am eager to delve into this attempt at creativity.

If you had an opportunity to change a favorite book’s cover, which one would it be?

 

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6 thoughts on “Judging Books By Their Cover

  1. Maybe not quite what you meant, but back in the 1970s I was put off from reading The Lord of The Rings by the then common covers of the paperback versions. They were weird and surrealistic and in my opinion entirely wrong in the sort of tone and ideas they invoked.

    A bit of googling indicates that the covers were painted by Barbara Remington for Ballantine Books. Can’t find a good example online I can link to easily, but this Google image search shows the painting I mean.

  2. While I have chosen books because the cover caught my eye, more often than not I was disappointed with what was inside. I’ve tried to move away from using covers and rely on my reaction after reading a blurb. (That’s not to say a cover isn’t important to me. If it looks amateurish, I won’t bother to investigate what the book may be about.)

  3. Guilty. I often will feel drawn to a particular book based on the cover and I’ve even bought a book solely based on the cover- without readying the synopsis or first couple of sentences. The great thing, is often my gut feeling based on the cover turns out to be a great find! I rarely find that the cover is a complete miss.

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